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Sun, Feb 7, 2016

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Decision time: Referee issue, QB calls, Cowboys' concerns need addressing


The QB situation in Arizona is up in the air, but whoever starts will play behind a porous O-line. (Getty Images)  
The QB situation in Arizona is up in the air, but whoever starts will play behind a porous O-line. (Getty Images)  

Time is always a great element in decision making. We tend to wait until we are closing in on three time-related decisions around the NFL with the regular season upon us.

1. Referee labor issue: The NFLRA and the NFL are still negotiating (if you can call it that) a deal to have the officials back on the field in time for the regular season.

Both sides have dug in their heels and don't appear ready to move toward the middle. I talked with two owners this month who convinced me they have no intention of meeting the officials' demands.

The replacement officials are under fire from the coaches, players and fans. However, none of those groups are decision-makers so it makes little difference what coaches, players and fans think or say. The coaches will coach, the players will play and the fans will watch no matter how long the lockout lasts. That leaves the officials with little leverage.

I do like that there will be more power for the booth officials, which hopefully will carry over once the regular officials finally get back on the field.

I don't think it's a bad idea for some of the most serious rulings on game day to come from the NFL offices on Park Avenue, in New York. NHL hockey gets a ruling on goals from the league office and the technology is in place for the league office to help get the calls right. The longer the lockout continues, the officials stand less of a chance at getting the control on the field they want. There is a growing sentiment for a more college-type system in the NFL -- and this lockout could provide the testing grounds for a new system.

2. Making big QB calls: Quarterback decisions are on the front burner around the league. Who will be the opening-day starter for the Seahawks? The Cardinals?

Seattle has a good problem because Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson look like solid candidates.

But in Arizona things are a little different. The offensive line is in bad shape at the tackles, so it may be better to be the No. 2 QB rather than first.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt might have to factor in which QB is better coming off the bench when he makes the decision. Ironically, these two teams play each other in the opener, a division game. John Skelton or Kevin Kolb? Does it really matter?

3. Big concern in Big D: Cowboys fans seem concerned about their team heading into the opener -- and with good reason. They open on the road against division rival New York.

Eli Manning is 5-1 in his past six starts against the Cowboys with 15 touchdown passes, seven interceptions and has been sacked only four times. The Cowboys have surrendered 335 passing yards on those games, only sacking Eli one of every 56 pass plays.

DeMarcus Ware has 3.5 sacks in those six games, which leaves half a sack -- in 230 pass plays -- for the rest of the Cowboys' defense. I think the Dallas back seven (linebackers and defensive backs) are better than they have been in the past three years, but if the front doesn't get to Eli it could be a long night.

Compounding the Cowboys' problems is the potential loss of Jason Witten (lacerated spleen) for the game. Witten has 88 receptions in his past 19 games against the Giants.

So while we may miss Witten, I can't wait to watch the matchup of Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul and Cowboys T Tyron Smith.

Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.

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